The Serenade in G major (1787), the most enduringly popular of all of Mozart's works, was written during the a period when the composer was also hard at work on his opera Don Giovanni. The title ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik' (A Little Night Music) is Mozart's own; ‘Nachtmusik' was actually a common designation for serenades of this type. While Mozart composed several such works during his years in Salzburg, the Serenade in G is unique to the period of his residence in Vienna (1781-1791). The work differs from Mozart's earlier serenades in its comparatively lean scoring: two violins, viola, cello, and double bass. Mozart's entry for this work in his catalogue shows that the work originally had five movements; the original second movement, a minuet, was later removed.
The specific occasion for which the Serenade was written is not known, but some have suggested that the work's grace, elegance, and perfection of form were intended as an antidote to the deliberate banality and clumsiness of the composer's Ein musikalischer Spass (A musical joke), K. 522, composed some six weeks earlier. However, this seems to run counter to the character of a composer quite capable of unapologetically coarse musical humor (as in some of his vocal canons, for example). The musicologist Alfred Einstein, also makes the questionable assertion that Mozart wrote the Serenade to fulfill a personal inner need-if true, certainly atypical for a composer who rarely produced music without some external motivation or purpose, whether financial or otherwise. The extant movements of the Serenade are as follows: Allegro; Romance (Andante); Menuetto (Allegretto); and Rondo (Allegro).